‘Breeze Easily’ – 2024 edition.
This article arose from the author and his partner often being asked about their electric bikes back when they were a less familiar sight, and deciding it would be easier and more helpful to give people some written info as well as whatever we could supply ‘on the hoof’!
Although based on our using e-bikes as day to day transport (basically a convenient and fun small car replacement for shopping, social outings and allotment runs etc) this article, aimed both at people who are new to the idea and contemplating the purchase of an e-bike, and at those who already have one and want to know more about its use and care, gives a general explanation and overview of a wide range of e-bikes suitable for different purposes, and about their maintenance and where to buy and service them.
It also details how you can most conveniently and safely get around Sheffield and beyond, and gives tips about all sorts of bike related accessories and apparel you may need or wish to purchase to make your riding easier.
We have found that in hilly Sheffield, for everyday utility transport usage, a bike with a more powerful than average mid motor system will serve you best (more on motor types see section 8) hence the overall bias in this article towards good quality e-bikes with stronger mid mounted motors and a good range of gears, usually a middle of the range model from a well known manufacturer.
For less demanding duties, or for fitter or lighter riders wanting to provide a significant part of the ‘go’ themselves there are now an increasing number of excellent lighter, less powerful e-bikes that will nonetheless provide you with sufficient assistance to make your commute and/or your leisure cycling a breeze. (See section 7 – ‘Lighter Weight e-bikes’.)
After many years of everyday e-bike use our conclusion is that if you want an e-bike to perform loaded utility duties comfortably and reliably (rather than lightly loaded utility, commuter, leisure or fitness oriented use) the following is the sort of specification you should consider:
You will find yourself using such a model to do many of the journeys you are currently spending a lot of money on in terms of fuel and running costs, parking charges, or bus, tram and train fares etc. Like us, you may find yourself unexpectedly selling your 2nd vehicle, or even your first!
And the Long version ……
You still need to pedal before the power cuts in, so it feels just like a ‘normal’ bike. On an e-bike inbuilt sensors detect when and how much you push on the pedal, and then the level of electrical motor power you have pre-selected is automatically added to your efforts.
Note: You have full control over the amount of assistance you want as you pedal. You can choose from low or even none, if you want a good workout, through various levels right up to the top level, which will provide a very welcome ‘ just get me home it’s been a long day’ setting!
Most systems give you 3 or 4 levels of assistance to choose from, or indeed no assistance at all if you prefer, e.g. if you are running low on battery, or just want a good workout on the pedals.
Under UK law that assistance has to be electronically cut out above 15.5mph, but you can then pedal faster than that under your own power, just as on a normal unassisted bike.
On Utility focussed bikes the 30% or so extra weight of the motor, battery, accessories etc means you mostly find yourself happily bowling along at a nicely assisted 10-15mph, making e-bikes ideal for local/urban transport and commuting.
That said, it is however sensible to take some time away from busy areas to familiarise yourself with the assistance that e-bikes offer you, and look out for local groups like Pedalready who may offer courses to help you find out how to ride an e-bike to best effect.
People often ask about doing this, and, particularly if you have a favourite bike that will respond well to a suitable conversion, then you may wish to do this.
Please note however that the authors can only recommend ‘proper’ kits that have been thoroughly developed as a complete and complementary product by a reputable dealer (Motor, Battery, Charger and Controller together) and either self-fitted by someone who is fully competent for the task, or by a local bike shop.
See Richard Peace’s helpful buyers-guide for a good round up, and there are moderately strong mid-drive kits to convert your own bike, e.g Bafang or Tongsheng motor powered kits from such as the well regarded Woosh bikes or the Dillinger kit.
Note: The author has fitted a £600 ish Woosh bikes bikes supplied Tongsheng 48V 250W TSDZ2 torque sensing mid drive kit to a friend’s MTB.
The fitting was quite straightforward, and the motor offers plenty of go and a good range, however it has not been super reliable, either refusing to ‘kick in’ and go from a start, or occasionally cutting out on the ride, needing a reboot and pause before restarting , maybe suggesting an issue with the Torque sensing arrangement.
That being the case it may be better to stick with the crude but effective Bafang stalwart.
The author recommends the excellent lightweight Cytronex front hub driven system. This features a more on demand ‘power-boost’ facility, rather than full time power, and will be well suited to converting more nimble commuting and leisure cycles, including the road bike tested by e-bike tips here , and also by the excellent A to B magazine
The author has recently fitted 3 Cytronex kits to friend’s hybrid and touring bikes, and impressions are very good – it looks and feels very well built, is easy enough to fit, the power delivery seems very smooth, albeit, as expected, significantly less than a mid drive system.
Good quality Lithium batteries and their correct chargers are very safe and should be long lasting. The internal Battery Management System (BMS) the specific charger supplied for the battery talks to each other and prevent the possible risk of damage and fire from overcharging, so never use a different charger!
Charging is straightforward, just like your phone. Most batteries are removable but can be charged on or off the bike, and in any case do charge best at room temperature.
The time taken to charge varies, depending on the power (number of Amps) of the charger and the size of the battery, and ranges from 4 – 8 hrs for a full charge. The good news is these batteries take charge fastest when low, and charge quickly to 80%, before slowing right down on the way to 100% to protect the cells, so they quickly charge to 50-80% if you need a top up from low on a quick turn round or a cafe top up stop.
Unlike older battery types, Lithium batteries have no ‘memory effect’ and can be part charged for an hour or two as often as you like without reducing the battery’s overall life, making it easy to keep it around 80% full.
For a happy long lived battery, the ideal is to try as much as possible to maintain the level of charge between 20% minimum – 80% maximum of the battery’s overall capacity. One study suggests that choosing to limit regular charging to 80% max can double the life of your battery, so avoid the old advice about ‘topping up’ a battery to 100% after every short ride, just do a 100% charge when you are going to need a full battery for a big ride..
(For the many batteries that have 5 lights showing the state of charge, this conveniently means putting it on charge when you get down into the second from the bottom light, and then unplugging it from the charger once the 5th or top one has started flashing.)
If you do end up flattening the battery, get some charge into it asap to avoid longer term damage, but always avoid charging the battery immediately after hard riding. Let the battery cool down for an hour or so before charging, as charging a heated battery will accelerate cell degradation.
If you are charging to 100%, note that Lithium batteries don’t like to be left sat on charge when full, so it’s best (and safer) to not leave it on charge overnight.
Lithium batteries are temperature sensitive. High and low temperatures both affect performance and shorten battery life. Never store the battery outside where it will be exposed to temperatures below 0ºC (Something to bear in mind if your bike lives in a shed or parked out overnight.) and avoid longer term parking under direct sunlight.
They like to be charged at room temperature, but if you do bring it in from the cold to charge it, ideally let it warm gently up to room temperature before charging.
Note too that the range capability of Lithium batteries drops by up to 25% or more when cycling in lower temperatures.
If yours is going to be out of use for more than a week or two the advice is to store it somewhere coolish at around 1/2 charge (say 3 out of the 5 lights on the battery lit) and top it up just a little every few weeks to maintain this level of charge.
Finally, should you ever need one, only purchase a genuine (ie expensive) replacement, made by or recommended by the manufacturer.
Want to charge using 100% Green electricity?
If you own or are thinking of buying an e-bike you might also be thinking about minimising your carbon footprint.
If so, check out the renewableenergyhub for genuinely green suppliers that do not use carbon credits to ‘greenwash’ their power, and who actually invest in green energy production, eg: goodenergy ecotricity or greenenergy .
If you have solar panels, simply plug your charger in while the sun’s shining! You could use a smart plug Timer to optimise your charging schedule.
Note: Recent reports about lithium batteries catching fire are due to an uplift in the number of occasional lithium battery fires in e-scooters – (but not for good quality e-bikes).
On investigation these have invariably proven to be the result of faulty or damaged battery cells/battery construction, or incorrect charger use/charging procedure.
In our view these are essentials: Go for a bike all kitted out with a rear pannier rack, mudguards, a strong centre or side stand and ideally with good fitted LED lights powered by the main power battery. If these items are absent on your chosen model, get some fitted at purchase, and get a good quality pannier bag or two to go on the rear rack to make carrying stuff convenient, much safer than in a backpack. (see luggage carrying below)
Additional high intensity flashing lights are highly desirable at night and in low sun conditions where drivers vision is compromised.
USB rechargeable lights like the inexpensive cateye.HL-EL042RC/ or a set such as cateye_ampp_200-viz_100_light_set are excellent. We have found Exposure-Lights Exposure lights to be very effective, robust and last for years.
Vehicle Cycle Rack:
You may wish or need to transport your bike to the start of your ride. If so you will need a good quality cycle rack for your vehicle, big and strong enough for e-bikes, such as those available from https://www.roofbox.co.uk/bike-carriers/
I would not be without a rear view mirror – whether mounted on your handlebar, helmet, frame or wrist they allow you to monitor what/who is going on behind you, helping you decide if and when you need to take pre-emptive action like moving in to the primary position or ‘taking the lane’.
NB – I subscribe to the view that using a mirror should not be a replacement for also looking round over your shoulder to check what’s going on behind you – eg when pulling out round parked cars or moving out to take the lane. I think it probably helps for a driver to see the face of the human being on the bike!
I use a mirrycle-mountain-mirror
Tools: Pump wise, I’d go for a Topeak floor pump and their Mini-Morph for on the road, and one of their hexus-x multitools. Chuck in a spare tube to suit your bike, and a couple of good quality (not cheap) plastic tyre-levers and off you go. With that kit someone will be able to sort out an on road issue – even if it’s not you!
Luggage carrying: For carrying luggage safely (ie not in your back) get a sturdy, capacious rear pannier rack, and pair it with a high quality Ortlieb waterproof pannier or two – get a good deal and support the great bike route charity Sustrans here
My own and a neighbour’s experience (he had to make a claim) with Halifax home insurance has been very positive. They will cover up to £10.000 of named cycles.
Separate dedicated and comprehensive e-bike cover is now available from lots of insurers, such as ETA or cycleguard , yellowjersey , Pedalsure and bikmo which give reassurance both when parked, some also offering ‘rescue’ out on the road. Might sound expensive (typically around 5 – 10% of purchase price) but it is effectively my ‘car’ so what would I have to pay to insure that against theft?
Starting with wheels, if your bike has quick release axles, consider fitting security skewers. (and a seat post one too if you wish)
I just fit inexpensive Allen key operated ones ones to deter opportunists, but you can go mad and fit coded ones such as tranzx-components-quick-release-security-skewer-set or pitlock – just make sure you have the ‘key’ with you!
Next up it’s pedals – if like me you are likely to leave your bike unattended for long periods in higher risk areas, consider taking the pedals with you when you leave it! Easily done with such as MKS detachable-pedals pedals (metal version also available) and another hassle point to put the bandits off. (and make storage easier)
I’m a big fan of the modern incarnation of the Frame or ‘nurses’ lock – the frame mounted lock that basically locks a bar through the (usually rear) wheel. These are standard on some models, can be easily retrofitted to frames with the relevant drillings, or mounted to frames without drillings using an adaptor kit.
Choose a model that has a plug in chain option and get a chain to suit – quick, flexible and convenient for every shop stop and a good start for longer stops, and given my cargo style bike and habitual pannier contents weigh in at about 30kg it would be difficult to waltz off with if one wheel is locked.
For standard width tyres get something like the AXA-defender-rl-frame-lock and AXA-plug-in-chain-lock. Buy them together at Decathlon: Defender-bike-frame-lock and Plug-in-chain-bike-lock-for-the-defender-frame-lock or currently here at Scuffwheels and the nice versatile longer 130cm chain too.
Note – Choose a model which has wide enough jaws for the wider tyres on some e-bikes, especially if it has wider ‘balloon’ type tyres that tend to be around 60mm wide, e.g. the axa block xxl and the specific (nice long) plug in plug-in-chain chain that fits it.
If in doubt, get a bike shop to supply and fit one – locally russellsbicycleshed have the Trelock model available.
U locks – (aka D locks): The experts say these are the best cycle locks. They come in 4 security ratings: Bronze, Silver, Gold and now Diamond.
Better u-locks, with diameters of between 13 and 15 mm are unlikely to be defeated by anything but the biggest bolt cutters which most casual bike thieves just won’t have. However some thieves will, so at the top of the range there are the thickest locks, with diameters of 16 to 18 mm which reputedly cannot be cropped by even the biggest bolt cutters.
I wouldn’t use less than a Gold rated lock(s) on an e-bike, and in addition to the nurses lock and chain combo, I use a hefty (16mm thick shackle) oxford lock which has performed well, or go for the new halfords ultra high security Diamond rated lock. Use these in such a way it is hard to attack – all the lock filled by the frame/wheel/item you are locking too, well off the ground, lock mechanism pointing down. Lots of locks tested by Bike Radar here and a really informative resume of which U lock for which application at thebestbikelock (written pre the intro of the now highest ‘Diamond’ security rating.)
If im leaving it in a ‘dodgy’ area or for a length of time I might also take a minimum 10mm thick link chain/padlock combo to add to the D lock, something like the: Oxford-Chain10 – again at its most effective when the lock is kept well away from the ground so it is hard to attack with a hammer (wind chain round bike/object to soak up any loose.)
So 2 or even 3 locks – basically enough to make a thief look for an easier option!
The most difficult threat to counter is angle grinders. The litelok-x1 , reviewed here looks to be the lightest, most useable and reasonably priced UK made model available at the moment, and this Bikelock wiki unbreakable-bike-locks/ article details some other current offerings that aim to counter that threat, including the Hiplock d1000 Anti Angle Grinder model – expensive but worth it for a good bike in a vulnerable area, and the eponymous https://www.skunklock.com/….. (looks good, means £50 shipping from USA, but still cheaper than the Hiplock)
The good news is that being an e-bike, all this weight is not an issue, and certainly for say something like locking up in an outbuilding (or having a regular locking spot you can leave a lock at) you could even go for a motorbike type like the MAMMOTH-1-2M-SQUARE-CHAIN-LOCK .
These are a thing on the continent for urban security – people like the fact that they can be neatly and easily attached to the bike, and have a good open size for ease of use enabling a good range of locking options.
As you can see these days you can buy a couple of really good locks for around £100 or even less, but in the end all locks can be cut with a portable angle grinder, and I reckon the nurses lock adds a good degree of awkwardness in that scenario.
I also hold to the idea of parking it in a public, well lit place. Better still safely in the Hub at Sheffield’s main station if it’s anywhere near my destination. (Fob for life the station.)
Up to now there doesn’t seem to be a trend for trying to nick batteries, which is just as well as my Bosch one is currently around £300 – £800+ to replace depending on capacity, but it has a reasonably secure key locked mount, and the new ‘hidden’ downtube type should be more secure still. Of course you could take it with you when you park, as long as you have your key with you…….
Fit a Tracker?
It is a fact that stolen bikes are more likely to be recovered if they have been fitted with a tracker.
(One local e-bike has been recovered twice recently via the tracker.) Locally, A Different Gear, having tested different ones recommend and fit the powunity model.
Register your bike on the National Cycle Database (aka BikeRegister). I reckon this is a No Brainer – a free to use database where you enter your bike’s ID (frame no). You can then list it if stolen, so it can be looked out for at bike shops etc if touted round, and the Police can reunite you with it if it is recovered post theft. (They need hard evidence of ownership.)
You can also interrogate the register to check if a bike you are thinking of purchasing is bona fide, get info on risk in your area and buy ID aids or good locks cheap (e.g the Squire Eiger 230 Gold for £30) from this register.
Storage: Lastly I’m guessing most thefts are from home, where people who want to have watched it/you and your routine. (Yes that’s how it often happens!)
Here the best advice is to keep it inside a secure garage/shed (locked to a stout wall or floor anchor or even to the garden furniture that foiled one local attempt!) or even inside the house if possible, where you might use a Bike-lift .
Alternatively, go for a secure outdoor storage option like the compact trimetals , or asgardsss bike storage if you need more room as e-bikes tend to be longer, combined with a wall-anchor or a good ground anchor , and lock it to that with the super 10/14 or even 16mm thick chain or lock(s) you have.
Good range of these on offer at shedstore and buyshedsdirect and even fit a basic shed-alarm (recommended by a local user) for good measure, or get your storage solution plugged into your house alarm circuit if it’s nearby.
Finally you may wish to cover the area you store your bike with surveillance, and a local user rates the ring range highly – certainly the scallies skulking around my neighbours back door recently scarpered sharpish when they realised the ‘doorbell’ was recording them! – and a local user recommends the reolink wi-fi camera if you want to be wire free.
Note – be ready for the inevitable ‘return visit’ of the thieves a few weeks later, who know that you will have a nice shiny replacement bike!